'We can compete' - Ramaala confident about Entsika's Comrades prospects after solid start to 2024
With two men and one woman on the podium, Entsika Athletic Club enjoyed a good start to the 2024 season at the Bhekiziwe Joseph Shabalala Marathon yesterday (Sunday 4 February). In a men's 42km race that was won by Tshepo Ramashamole (2:21:28) of the Hollywood Athletics Club, Mphatso Nadolo (2:21:54) took a close second and Siboniso Sikhakhane (2:22:30) was third, while Nobukhosi Tshuma (2:53:18) finished as the runner-up behind Jenet Mbhele (2:46:45) who the women's marathon.
Hendrick Ramaala who coaches Sikhakhane and Tshuma at his Zoo Lake training base in Johannesburg is confident that the club will do well this year after a 2023 in which his EAC athletes Givemore Mudziganyama and Ntsindiso Mphakathi won the Totalsports Two Oceans and African Bank Soweto Marathons respectively.
"Looking backwards we had a good 2023," he told #TheTopRunner. "We had the 5km records and the 10km records coming home to Zoo. Two Oceans came home and the Soweto Marathon came home. Looking at it, we know we can do marathons but there's another bigger challenge called Comrades so we said let's add a Comrades project to this already successful distance project."
Not since the club was coached by John Hamlett in 2019 has the club won a Comrades Marathon gold medal. And in order to rectify that, Ramaala has beefed up his squad and included the likes of former SA 50km record holder Jonas Mahkele, Comrades gold medalist Lutendo Mapoto who joins the club from Murray & Roberts Running Club as well as Musa Zweni who broke the six hour barrier for the first time last year.
"We reinforced out our guys. We used to have Thandolwethu Ngcobo and Siya Mqambeli and all those guys. We've brought in Jonas, Musa, Lutendo Mapoto and already we have the guys in KZN coached by Baba Willie Mtolo like Solicitor and Sibisi. I think the team will have eight people going for Comrades. I think we can bring a gold back," he smiled.
Better known for coaching the likes of SA 10km National Record holder Precious Mashele and reigning SA 5000m champion Maxime Chauemton, the man who won the 2004 New York Marathon is not regarded as a Comrades Marathon specialist coach. But Ramaala says he has learnt a lot about The Ultimate Human Race, particularly from Claude Moshiywa who did some of his speed training sessions with the Zoo Lake group when he won the 2013 Up Run.
"The rest of the country is lagging behind in terms of competing with the North West Nedbank Rustenburg guys. Big respect for those guys because they've taken Comrades to a new level - mainly the Down Run. But this year is exciting because it's an Up Run. The Up Run itself will level the playing field. It gives me hope. I'm thinking we can compete. We have an advantage because we can always consult with Claude. We learnt a lot from him. He address us one time and we learnt a lot. We also have guys with experience - Lutendo has achieved gold, Siya has achieved gold. It's exciting!"